5 Ways to Influence our Kids Without Shame

Some parents think there is no alternative to shaming their kids in order to discipline, modify behavior and motivate them to change. However, shame is an ineffective discipline strategy at best. At worst, it causes developmental damage to your child, demotivates, and hurts your relationship with them. This is not just a statement based on my personal perspective. Many mental health professionals in the field of psychology agree that shaming a child only damages their development. Studies show that it is ineffective at changing bad behavior and motivating good behavior. And, in my clinical experience, I’ve seen shaming backfire in the face of many parents who use it as their parenting strategy. Shaming creates power struggles between parents and kids. Over time, kids rebel. Kids lose respect for their parent. And kids feel defeated. In short, shaming doesn’t work.

But if shaming is all you know to do, as you take shaming away, what are you left with? Is there another way? Are there other tools parents can use to discipline their kids, keep them accountable, and give consequences for bad behavior? There are so many tools at your disposal that not only mitigate the damage done by shame, they are effective at motivating your child, fostering their development, enhancing self-efficacy, AND, most importantly, they build positive relationship between you and your child. So, what are some of the tools?

Shame Backfires on Parents

The purpose behind most parents actions is to influence their child in a positive way. Shame is influential, but in the way you want it to be. Shaming your child poisons the well of their relationship. Ooooh, so deep, what does it mean?

Let’s say you shame your child to discourage them from doing a bad behavior. Your child stops the bad behavior, but in the process of shaming them, you lose credibility and trust. Your child will not feel safe around you. You may not see it at first, but I’ve worked with enough families to know when kids don’t respect or trust their parents, it puts a brick wall between you and your child.

Even if shame does work, it ruins your relationship. But I’m getting ahead of myself because shaming doesn’t work. Its ineffective at stopping bad behavior and motivating kids to do good behavior.

Methods of Influence- There are a variety of ways parents can influence their kids in ways that are effective and build the relationship. Below I’ve listed three, but this is a short list. There are more creative, imaginative, persuasive and engaging ways to do it.

  • Rationale for Rules– If you can’t give a reasonable explanation for your rules, then they probably aren’t good rules, and they definitely won’t be followed by your kid. Have a calm, rational conversation with your child where you explain the reasoning for your rules. Let them ask questions. Kids are more likely to follow rules they understand and see the benefit of.
  • Honest Conversations– Have an honest conversation with your child regarding what they are really doing. If they are smoking weed, sneaking out to parties, hanging out with destructive peers, you need to know this so you can take appropriate action. The only way your child will tell you this information is if they feel safe. In order for them to feel safe, you can’t freak out when they tell what’s going on. Stay calm. Listen. Understand where they are coming from. And, if they are a teen, give them guidance not commands.
  • Understanding– You need to understand what your child thinks about the rules. You need to know why they won’t follow them. Or, where they have an issue with the rules. Even if you don’t agree with their perspective, at least you know what they’re getting hung up on. This is valuable information. Often, we parents think we know what our kids think, but we really don’t. Once you understand, then you can discuss.

Positive Reinforcement- Rewards are motivators. They should always come with conditions. The logic is very simple “If you do X, you get Y.” This is not an ironclad rule, sometimes it can be flexed. Do not put the cart before the horse. Meaning, do not reward your child hoping that will encourage good behavior. Rewards should follow good behavior. Don’t bribe your kids, motivate them.

Negative Reinforcement- Often times kids understand your rules and the reasoning behind them. They question you because they just don’t want to follow the rules. If this is the case, lead with enforcing the behavior you want. If they don’t obey then remove privileges, freedoms and access to rewards. Again, this is done for motivational purposes, not retributive. If your child think you are being retributive, then they will fight back, resist, and challenge you at every step.

Buy-In- Not to be contradictory, but I’m going to contradict nuance a statement I made above. Sometimes, the rationale for your rules are not understood by your child. Or, they were made without your child’s input. If you child is in their teenage years, they want and should have a voice in the rules they have to follow. When your child feels like they have a say, and their say matters, they will be more likely to follow the rules and contribute.

Relational Motivation- A positive relationship with your child can also be a motivator for them to follow the rules, understand your rationale, and be respectful. This requires you being respectful to them; to model the kind of behavior you want to see from them. The relationship is the most important thing you have with your child. Sometimes, you will have to put the relationship over and above getting what you want. If you have a good relationship with your child, meaning there is a positive connection, shared interest, good communication, respect, investment in each other, love and affection, your child will listen to you, follow your lead, and receive your input.

Don’t make the mistake of being overly dependent on shaming. Shame is something everyone feels without it being intentionally added to our lives. Shame is ineffective, hurts the relationship and demotivates kids. There are a plethora of tools available to parents that really work. So, do yourself and your child a favor and start learning how to use these parenting tools.